‰Û_is that a synthesizer I hear?: Musical Variety on Cory Branan‰’s Adios

Jonathan Skufca

Happy fall semester everyone! I hope yinz all had great summers, and you‰’re ready for another great year (actually the last!!) of Another Kind of Currency. So let‰’s not waste any time and get on to the reason you‰’re all here. This will be a bit of a long one, so buckle in—it‰’ll be an exciting ride.

The summer of 2017 was defined by LSAT Prep, hanging up posters for concerts, and lots of caffeinated beverages. In between those things, I listened to a lot of music. To be more accurate, I listened to one album. A lot. That album is Cory Branan‰’s newest release, Adios. Having been described as “too punk for country, too country for punk, too Memphis for Nashville, and probably a little too Cory Branan for anyone‰’s damn good,‰” Branan has been an artist I‰’ve been following since hearing “Tall Green Grass‰Û off of his sophomore release 12 Songs. When I saw that Adios came out earlier this year, I listened to it instantly and fell in love. I don‰’t have the space to do a track-by-track analysis of the record, as much as I want to. I‰’ll instead discuss the ones that show how much musical variety there is on this one record.

The opening track “I Only Know‰” is exactly what you‰’d expect from a Cory Branan album—the musical stylings of country laced with Branan‰’s signature attitude. It‰’s one of the brighter tracks on the record, and features Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! and Dave Hause of The Loved Ones harmonizing with Branan on the chorus.

The next track, “Imogene‰” is a standard country-style ballad, but a perfect example of Branan‰’s fantastic songwriting. What follows is the first track that caught me off guard a bit: “Blacksburg.‰” What begins as a southern-rock song that wouldn‰’t sound too foreign on a Skynyrd record, soon features an instrumental break whose solo instrument somehow manages to sound simultaneously like a saxophone and heavily distorted guitar. I knew Branan often did interesting things on his record, but this was a sound unlike any I had ever heard before. This record was quickly becoming one of my favorites of the year—and given how much music has been released this year, that‰’s saying something.

“Yeah, So What,‰” the next track, evokes feelings of “The Prettiest Waitress in Memphis‰Û off of 12 Songs, but that isn‰’t a bad thing. It‰’s a cute little country-rock track and fits perfectly on the record. Skipping over to “The Vow,‰” we have the closest thing to a stereotypical country song on the record. It‰’s a song about Branan‰’s recently deceased father. It‰’s a very touching and personal song that shows that for all of this musical variety, he‰’s still a simple man from northern Mississippi:

Now the flag is folded and the numbers are carved
The Mississippi‰’s glistening green
Another summer‰’s softly calling off the search for missing things

But I have found something kept
To keep me company
On these nights when me and my old man
Go digging into dreams

What did I know about it then?
What do I know now?
I have known the kind of man
It takes to keep the vow

I can only hope as I propose to man the outpost now
I‰’ll be armed with memories of the man it takes to keep the vow

On that note, the next track is the quirky “Walls, MS,‰” a song about a small suburb of Memphis, TN, next to the suburb that Branan himself grew up in (Southhaven). It‰’s just so incredibly different from anything else on the record. While musically it‰’s not very exciting, it just stands in such stark contrast to anything else on the record you can‰’t help but notice it.

The next track I want to talk about is probably my favorite on the record, the punk-influenced “Another Nightmare in America.‰” This anti-police violence protest song, sung from the point of view of a bigoted police officer, is one of the more political songs on the record, but it‰’s one of the most important. Branan himself is quoted as saying, “It‰’s hard to put poetic words in the mouth of a bigot,‰Û and while I definitely agree, I believe that he approached such a tense subject appropriately. The biting tone of the song comes across very clearly, and the double meaning of lines like “We‰’ve hollowed out our bibles to hide our golden guns‰” is not lost on the listener. It‰’s difficult to listen to, but the best art is difficult to consume. The best art makes us uncomfortable—that‰’s how we become cognizant of issues and seek to change things.

Moving forward to a more hopeful song, we get to the song that made me say the words I used to title this article. When I heard the opening to “Visiting Hours,‰” I genuinely thought that Spotify had glitched and started playing an Elvis Costello song I hadn‰’t heard before. But sure enough, after the synth-driven introduction, you hear Branan‰’s signature baritone singing over a backing track that wouldn‰’t be out of place on a ‰80s top 40 single. This track, in the running for my personal song of the year (along with “Another Nightmare in America‰Û), tells the story of a close friend of Branan who seems to be on their deathbed—probably due to an illness:

We always said we‰’d always die for rock n roll
But you didn‰’t mean it and I didn‰’t mean so slow
We always thought we‰’d both go out in some blue fireball of awesome
Not watching moonlight drooling down the wall.

And the chorus is a bit ominous—what does he mean when he says “Visiting Hours are over in east St. Paul‰Û? Is the friend so close to death that Branan no longer wants to visit them? It‰’s all very ambiguous, as things about terminal illness seems to be. But ultimately, the song ends on a positive note:

Not to put a damper on adieu
Heaven knows how much Hell meant to you
But go tell Tchaikovsky to tell that old electrocardiogram the news
Doc says he‰’ll be damned you‰’re pulling through
You son of a bitch you
You‰’re gonna pull through

And then he rockets into a slightly altered version of the chorus, which puts a whole different perspective on the line that contains the title. The visiting hours are over because they no longer need to be in the hospital—they‰’re “pulling through.‰Û

I could write about this record forever—it‰’s that good—if you‰’ve gotten this far I owe you a beer and then we can talk in person about this record because I hope you‰’ve been inspired to listen to it. As for all the songs I didn‰’t mention, it‰’s not because they‰’re not good songs—it‰’s just that I chose to focus on the songs that show Branan‰’s wide spectrum of musical talent. This is one of the best albums released this decade, and I hope you give it a chance—even if you “don‰’t like country.‰Û

ALSO Cory Branan will be playing in DC on November 15th. You bet your ass I‰’ll be there. I hope some of you will be as well.